The Adoration of the Magi
THE MOTHER OF GOD knew by supernatural enlightenment that on the night of the Nativity an Angel had been sent to announce the birth of the Saviour of mankind to the three Magi Kings of the East, and she also knew that they would soon come to adore the Infant Jesus in the stable, for which she had a real affection. Yet when St. Joseph suggested that they move to a more comfortable dwelling in Bethlehem, Mary simply answered, without revealing the mystery:
"My husband and master, wherever you wish to go, I will follow with great pleasure."
Just then the holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel appeared to them both and said:
"Divine Providence has ordained that three kings of this world shall come from the East in search of the King of Heaven, and shall adore the Word Incarnate in this very place. They are already ten days on the way and will shortly arrive."
Joseph and Mary therefore set about preparing the grotto for the visit of the Kings, and during the following days the Blessed Virgin saw in visions the Magi traveling together across the deserts east of the Holy Land.
The three Kings, whose names (according to tradition) were Gaspar, Balthasar and Melchior, ruled over what is now Iraq and Iran. Gaspar of Mesopotamia, the youngest, was light brown in appearance, Balthasar of Parthia was dark brown, while Melchior of Media, the oldest, was rather stout and had an olive-colored complexion. All three were unusually just and honorable men who were also great scholars and students of religion. Through their knowledge of the Old Testament prophecies and of certain traditions of their own peoples, they believed in the coming of the Saviour of mankind. And because they were kind and generous and good men, on the night of the Nativity they earned the privilege of being told by the Angels in a dream that the long-awaited King of the Jews had just been born, that He was the Promised Redeemer, and that they were chosen by the Lord to seek Him and to honor Him. Though each one received this revelation separately, each was made aware that it had also been given to the other two. The three Kings awoke at the same hour of the night, filled with extraordinary joy, and prostrating themselves on the ground they humbly thanked and worshipped Almighty God. Then they decided to leave immediately for the Land of Israel in order to adore the Divine Child. Without delay they prepared gifts and procured the necessary camels, provisions and servants for their journey.
As each King set out that evening, he suddenly perceived a beautiful mystic star, which was formed by the Angels, and in this star he saw a symbolic vision of a Virgin and a Child with a cross, Who was the King of a heavenly city and Whom all the kings on earth worshipped. The star then guided the three Magi in such a way that within a few days they came together, Melchior having traveled more rapidly than the others from his more distant kingdom. All three, who were already intimate friends, after conferring about their revelations became still more inflamed with devotion for the newborn King, and they now pursued their trip together, always under the guidance of the star, which they could see as clearly during the day as at night. Each King was accompanied by four or five relatives and friends and a large number of servants, all riding on camels, dromedaries or horses, and consequently the caravan consisted of about two hundred persons. The journey across the deserts, mountains, and rivers of Chaldea and Syria took nearly a month, despite the fact that the camels and horses were unusually fleet-footed. The whole caravan traveled in perfect order, and everyone seemed filled with simple joy and devotion. At times, while contemplating the mystic star, the good Kings spontaneously composed and sang lovely canticles, with words such as: "Beyond the mountains we yearn to kneel at the feet of the newborn King!"
At last, after crossing the river Jordan, they arrived before the walls of Jerusalem, which, because it was the capital of Israel, they thought was the logical birthplace of the new King of the Jews. However, they were already disturbed by the fact that, contrary to their expectations, they had observed no signs of rejoicing among the people over the birth of the Messias. Also as they approached the great city, the star almost faded from their sight. At the city gate they questioned some of the guards, saying:
"Where is the newly born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him."
But to their astonishment, the guards and other Jews indicated that they knew nothing about the birth of a new King of Israel. Then at the request of the Magi, messengers were sent to arrange an interview with King Herod in his palace. And while they were waiting, the three Wise Men became very discouraged and only recovered some of their confidence after a period of silent prayer.
Herod having agreed to see the Kings the following morning, the caravan camped for the night in a large courtyard.
But the Magi could not sleep. Instead they wandered through the city with guides, and studied the sky as though they were looking for the star. They thought that perhaps Herod wanted to hide the Child King from them.
Actually Herod too was so deeply troubled that he could not sleep, and during the night he summoned the high priests and doctors of the Law to meet with him. And he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. Unrolling their scriptures and pointing to a passage in the Book of Micheas, they said to him:
"In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written through the prophet."
Becoming still more disturbed and fearful for his throne, Herod thereupon resolved to have the Infant King secretly put to death. Taking some of the priests with him, he went out onto a porch and tried in vain to see the star of the Magi. Meanwhile the scholars urged him to pay no attention to the fantastic stories of the Eastern rulers, for they insisted that, if the Messias had indeed been born, the fact would already be known both in the Temple and in the Palace. Realizing how unpopular he was among the people, Herod decided to keep the whole matter quiet.
He therefore received the Magi, in secret, at dawn the following morning in a large hall in which refreshments and bouquets of flowers had been prepared for his guests. After having made them wait a while, he entered, accompanied by several doctors of the Law, and proceeded to question the Wise Men closely concerning the time when the star had first appeared to them and concerning all that they knew about the Infant King. Then Gaspar described the vision which they had had of a Virgin and a royal Child Whom the kings of the earth adored, because His kingdom was greater than all the kingdoms of the world. After telling them about the prophecy referring to Bethlehem, Herod hypocritically pretended that he too wished to adore the Infant King, and he said to the Magi:
"Go and make careful inquiry concerning the Child, and when you have found Him, bring me word, that I too may go and worship Him."
Leaving the king very ill at ease, and without taking any of his refreshments, the Magi set out with their caravan for Bethlehem. Soon after they had passed out of the city gate, they again perceived the star and burst into cries of joy and happy songs. Then they camped for awhile and said some prayers, and all of a sudden a spring of clear, fresh water gushed out of the ground before their eyes. Taking this as a good omen, they built a small pool and let their animals drink their fill. The three Kings now ate their first meal since leaving Jerusalem. Later in the day they continued on their way over the hills of Judea to Bethlehem.
VIEW AN IMAGE
When they arrived in the City of David toward evening, the star disappeared again, and they felt somewhat anxious. They were directed to the Valley of the Shepherds as a suitable place for the caravan to camp overnight. After their servants had put up a large tent and had begun to unpack provisions, the three Kings suddenly perceived the star shining with extraordinary brightness over a nearby hill. Then a beam of fiery light descended from the star onto the grotto, and in this ray the Magi saw a vision of the holy Child. Reverently taking off their headdress, they slowly walked over to the hill and found the entrance to the stable. Gaspar pushed the door open and caught sight of the humble Mother of God sitting with the Infant Jesus at the far end of the cave, which was filled with a heavenly light. Both Mother and Child were just as the Kings had seen them in the vision a month before.
St. Joseph and an old shepherd now came out of the grotto, and the Magi told him very simply and modestly that they had come to worship the newborn King of the Jews and to offer Him their gifts, whereupon Joseph welcomed them with touching friendliness and cordiality. Then, accompanied by the shepherd, they returned to their tent in order to prepare for the solemn ceremony by which they planned to honor the Saviour. And after having assembled their gifts and put on their great, white, silk cloaks, they set out for the grotto in an orderly procession with their relatives and Servants.
When Mary knew that the Magi were approaching, she asked St. Joseph to stay at her side, and she calmly awaited them, standing with her Son in her arms, her head and shoulders covered with her veil, in perfect modesty and beauty, with a celestial light shining in her countenance and shedding over her a majesty that was more than human, even amid the extreme poverty of the stable.
... the three Kings entered the grotto. At their first sight of the Mother and Child, they were overwhelmed with reverence and admiration, and their pure hearts overflowed with joyful devotion. By a special permission of God they also perceived the multitude of resplendent Angels who were attending the King of kings. Then the three Magi simultaneously prostrated themselves very humbly on the ground and fervently worshipped the Divine Infant, acknowledging Him as their Lord and Master and as the Saviour of all mankind.
THE BLESSED VIRGIN SAID TO VENERABLE MOTHER MARY OF AGREDA:
"My daughter, great were the gifts which the Kings offered to my most holy Son, but greater still was the affection with which they offered them and the mystery concealed beneath them. I wish you also to offer up similar gifts. For I assure you, my dearest, that there is no more acceptable gift to the Most High than voluntary poverty. There are few in the world who use temporal riches well and offer them to their Lord with the generosity and love of those holy Kings. You too can make such an offering of the things necessary for sustenance, giving a part to the poor: Your ceaseless offer, however, must be love, which is the gold; continual prayer, which is the incense, and the patient acceptance of labors and true mortifications, which is the myrrh. All that you do for the Lord, you should offer up to Him with ardent affection."
VIEW THE BANNER IMAGE IN FULL